Today (7-22-13) marks the ten year anniversary of the release date for Thrice's genre-bending, explosive, major label debut The Artist In The Ambulance. I will attempt, in this stream of consciousness (and ironically as I stream the album from my Amazon Cloud Player) review, to elaborate on the key themes explored both lyrically and sonically in the songs while also providing my life perspective as a wide-eyed 19-year-old looking for purpose and meaning in the summer of 2003 that bridged my high school graduation to the start of college life.
Musically, Thrice marries the succint hardcore sound found in The Illusion Of Safety with accessible melody (both in vocals and riffs). Some of the songs incorporate their metal influences (the outro of "Under A Killing Moon", "Paper Tigers"). Lyrically, Dustin Kensrue explores his own faith by asking questions about objective truth ("Staring At The Sun"), questioning morality ("The Abolition Of Man"), questioning reality ("Silhouette"), and chastising hypocrites ("Cold Cash And Colder Hearts", "The Artist In The Ambulance")
Cold Cash And Colder Hearts
To my knowledge, this may be the one of the very few, if not the only, hard rock song written about Americans being reluctant to put money where their mouth is and give financial aid to impoverished African nations. The song hits with some fast, heavy chords (great girth to them) and Dustin's wails.
"They are sick. They are poor. They die by the thousands and we look away". BAM - convicted.
Dustin later sings, as speaking for our nation, "Different God. Darker skin. They are just not a burden that we'd like to bear. They are living in sin. They are so many reasons for us not to care." and "We've learned money matters most". Wow.
I'll never forget hearing that outro for the first time with the windows down driving down the highway as Dustin screams "THEY ARE NO ONE. THEY ARE NOWHERE" and the hush of violins comes over.
Under A Killing Moon
I first heard this song on the Warped Tour '03 Compilation (in June 2003 before any other sounds clips of the new album were released) and was completely stoked off the sound because it sounded so similar to The Illusion Of Safety. I mistakenly thought that the new record would sound entirely like this.
Not many other songs sound better being blared out of your car stereo with the windows down than the Iron Maiden-esque riffs and screams "WE'LL WATCH THE WITCHES BURN!!! BURN!!!!"
All That's Left
This is the only song on the album that I could never really get into and almost constantly skipped. I am aware that it was the first single and music video. I remember seeing the music video on MTV that July and was super stoked to see Thrice on MTV.
Oh snap. This is where the record really started to get good. Those chords sucked me right into the chorus and Dustin's gut-wrenching screams. In the liner notes, I recall Dustin saying that the chorus to this song (and most of "Paper Tigers") caused him to vomit several times in the studio while recording and IT EVEN SOUNDS LIKE HE'S ABOUT TO PUKE. How METAL is that!?
Lyrically, Dustin is trying to discern what is truth in his life and what is just shadows by directly addressing God and how he is forming character in Dustin by saying "Your eyes sifting my soul. They forge diamonds from the coal." I've always liked the reference to speaking in tongues too.
"I KNOW THAT THIS LIFE IS A LIE SO SLIT MY THROAT"
Stare At The Sun
This was the single that connected with the mainstream and propelled the album to Gold sales. I like the story of searching for truth that Dustin weaves together in this song and that bass line is still amazing and will stay stuck in your head for days. I always loved how the guitar riff picks up the bass line pattern in the chorus. It's smart, and almost too complex for a radio rock song, but it worked.
Random fact: According to the extended liner notes, Dustin took the "cracked my teeth on pearls" line from a Simpsons episode. Awesome.
Oh my goodness. The song is still one of my favorites of all time and I wish the band would've played it on the 2012 Farewell Tour. Back in 2003, I had this song on repeat for about 3 days straight. That ending where the double bass pedal is pulverized, MAN. That's just some good metal/hardcore influence right there.
Dustin has improved his screaming so much since. I am certain it would sound epic with his improved vocals....AND IT DOES (with his post-Vheissu vocals here in 2006)
Hoods On Peregrine
Those cascading drums were always so memorable.
These two lines always did it for me:
"But if knowledge is power, notice is tyranny"
"You think they're selling you truth, truth is they're selling you out"
The Melting Point Of Wax
This song is a clever retelling of the classic Icarus song and also a metaphor for the band's insecurities with being courted by major labels. As a freshman in college, I remember playing this song on my Minidisc player (remember those??) while sitting and waiting for my lecture in Ancient Greek History to start (because I'm a geek and that's super appropriate).
Fun Fact: "Daedalus" on the "Air" EP of The Alchemy Index is written from the perspective of Icarus' father.
Blood Clots and Black Holes
The classic metal riff that permeates throughout the song is so killer and sets up the lyrical themes of discontent with the war (the invasion of Iraq took place that past March) and a personal war to attack oneself physically (cutting, drugs). I barely ever keyed in on the lyrics here but let myself get carried away in that riff.
The Artist In The Ambulance
For the kids, like myself, who grew up on this new crop of emo/screamo/hardcore bands that hit in the early 2000s, there was never really that one accessible song or anthem that everyone memorized and wanted to sing together. THIS is that song that became the anthem for our scene. It marries the introspective, heart on sleeve lyrics with an extremely arena rock-ish chorus that anyone can relate to and everyone understood. The universal theme of sitting at death's doorstep and pondering life, our regrets, what changes we (I) can make for the better is something everyone can empathize with.
I've always adored the bridge where Dustin sings:
"Rhetoric can't raise the dead. I'm sick of all this talking when there's no change.
Rhetoric can't raise the dead. I'm sick of empty words.
Let's lead, not follow"
The Abolition Of Man
This take on morality and the contents of C.S. Lewis' book of the same title has been a personal favorite of mine because of changes in song pace and lyrics that deal with the general disposition of man and his heart. Dustin is generally talking about man's pre-disposition to sin and asking "why?". He is looking for the meaning of why we have this pit in us, beneath our blood, in our souls.
"Wake up everyone. It's not too late to save the remnants of our hearts"
"It's not too late to find the meaning of the pit beneath the blood"
Don't Tell And We Won't Ask
Man, that outro is classic. I think Teppei could play that riff for hours. Perfect ending to the album.
I'm so thankful that the band took what they learned from this record and built on it. Vheissu (2005) is their masterpiece and I'm hoping and praying that the band returns from their hiatus for a Vheissu tour in 2015.